COLUMN

Lament for a nation

Even royalty fails to divide or con us anymore

Roderick McQueen July 27 1981
COLUMN

Lament for a nation

Even royalty fails to divide or con us anymore

Roderick McQueen July 27 1981

Lament for a nation

COLUMN

Even royalty fails to divide or con us anymore

Roderick McQueen

I have this theory about life. Two the-ories, actually. The first: Canadians will put up with nearly anything. The second is the flip side: Canadians will muddle along minus just about everything else. Look at the facts. The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians has handcuffed the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for, who knows, two months. The Knowlton National comes on suddenlike with no computergenerated intro, one lonely microphone and few snappy rear-screen graphics. The whole thing appears to be produced with one camera that’s bolted to the floor. At the recent New Democratic Party convention in Vancouver, delegates were urged to inspect reporters’ accreditation badges just so any scab CBC types could, presumably, be tattooed with the letter S, like so many runaway slaves. Beyond such piddling stuff, the strike has gone unlamented across Canada.

Item two: some 1,800 media paparazzi will converge on The Magnificent Seven’s economic summit this week at Montebello, the world’s largest log cabin. There will be so much back-patting and self-serving rhetoric from the leaders that the only possible description of coverage can be grovel-to-grovel. Security will be so tight that frogmen will patrol the splash of water around the eternal flame on Parliament Hill. Yawn, respond Canadians.

Why, the Queen Mum, Princess Margaret Rose and her lovely daughter, the Lady Doodah, were able to slip in and out of the country earlier this month with a minimum of placards and pomp. Even royalty fails to divide or con us anymore.

And no baseball. So revered a foreign sport that Canadians offer as much respect for The Star-Spangled Banner as for 0 Canada before each game, how could we get along without the all-star game or the silly nasal Bronx twang of Howard Cosell on Monday Night Baseball. More than a month is how long. And counting. That other great Cana-

dian entertainment staple, right after Yankee Stadium and Buckingham Palace, is Hollywood. Scriptwriters settled their three-month strike last week, but some tired reruns will roll until Christmas. No matter, this time through we’ll know whether it’s titters or tears being called for, and when.

In British Columbia, 48,000 members of the International Woodworkers of America walked out last week in a dispute that may quickly affect up to 200,000 jobs from bush to boardroom.

Once among the most vociferous unions, these days even the Woodies toss up few protests and fewer parades as they walk the picket lines.

Le Devoir, the country’s most thoughtful daily journal, ceased publication for 66 days and a strike-bound Radio-Canada hirpled along for eight months. Most Canadians took little note nor long remembered.

Even the violence of Northern Ireland fades as the sixth hunger striker dies, rating bare mention for the daring disdain of life that so riveted us in Bobby Sands two short months ago. Perhaps it was Canadians about whom the French philosopher François de La Rochefoucauld spoke: “It is remarkable with what fortitude we are able to bear the misfortune of others.”

There doesn’t even seem to be much ruckus from that eternal friction toy, the federal Tories, these days. No longer is it true, as Conservative MP Elmer MacKay once said: “You know from observing us that all of us have got this

unfortunate tendency, when we see a microphone, to think that they’re nipples, and we rush right over to them and try to get them in our mouths before we have time to think.”

Finally, there’s that grandpappy of all the yawners, the mail strike. The old joke: “Postal strike? How can you tell?” surfaces briefly, then sinks. Who cares? Certainly not those folks in Ottawa who just voted themselves a one-third pay increase.

Maybe once the mail flows and the CBC is relit and the politicians throw out the first baseball of the second season they’ll be able to tell us why it was that they voted themselves so rich. At these new rates of pay, Joe Clark will never quit. As for Pierre Trudeau, the money doesn’t matter. What he still seeks, before he’ll step down, is a successor who will pardon him.

Uranium cartels, an oil inquiry that charges ripoffs, bankrupt pension plans, threatened wage controls. Ho hum. Punishing interest rates, double-digit inflation, one million unemployed, meagre growth ... the list goes on but the moral outrage never begins.

And there are so many more items in a growing list of atrocities to which the response has long been apathy: 492 arrests under the 1970 War Measures Act, Second World War internment of Japanese Canadians, the brain drain of the 1950s, decades of neglect of native peoples.

Any one of them should be enough to make a northern mammal’s cold blood boil. But none does.

Perhaps, as Irving Layton writes in Europe and Other Bad News, “We live in a time when atrocity’s the norm/and survival the sole merit.” Or maybe the answer is more simple. As former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield said of the speeches at a 1975 roast in his honor: “No one has really laid a glove on me. It only proves, as Mackenzie King once said, you cannot roast a wet blanket.” Wet blankets. An apt description of us all. That’s why it’s tough to set the heather on fire in this country.